Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults age 18 or older every year. Globally, the number jumps to 260 million. That’s a lot of people who have learned to live their lives with this illness as normally as they can.
But having anxiety in your teen years is a whole different story. Anxiety disorders affect 25.1% of children between 13 and 18 years old. Research from the National Institute of Mental Health shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse.
What is Anxiety?
When someone has anxiety, it changes the way their brain reacts to seemingly ‘normal’ circumstances. For me, something as simple as getting up to go to the bathroom during a test takes quite a bit of convincing, to the point where I don’t even feel the need to go anymore.
Anxiety disorders arise in a number of forms, but the International Classification of Disease, Eleventh Revision notes frequent symptoms of
in people diagnosed with anxiety disorders.
Since an anxiety disorder is a mental illness, there is also a neurological side to the story. Symptoms of anxiety come from disruptions in the balance of activity in your brain’s emotional center, rather than in the higher cognitive centers. The emotional-processing brain structures are referred to as the limbic system. The amygdala, which is part of the limbic system, is responsible for the expression of fear and aggression, and plays a role in the formation and retrieval of emotional and fear-related memories. Disruptions in the electronic signals in the amygdala has been linked to mild anxiety, which is the most common kind in teens.
Teenage anxiety disorders are also the hardest to spot, because they can often be mistaken for unimportant stress from school or the workload, leading to lack of treatment.
In my school, it isn’t rare for students to experience mild anxiety. We have to balance schoolwork, clubs, and social lives all while getting enough sleep to do the same thing in the morning. I came to the school in 9th grade, and the transition from a school that gave me barely any work to a school as rigorous as Dalton was hard, especially because I internalized all my anxiety as ‘stress from work’ that was ‘normal’.
As part of my interactive element, I decided to make a website that informs people about anxiety and the consequences of when it goes untreated, as well as possible ways for them to seek out treatment and organizations they can donate to in order to help anxiety research.